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UFC on FX 2:

Flyweights eager to scrap for new UFC championship belt

Joseph Benavidez, Demetrious Johnson drop to 125 pounds for four-man tournament

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Justin M. Bowen

Joseph Benavidez (left) and Dominick Cruz go to their corners during their WEC bantamweight title fight at WEC 50 inside The Pearl at The Palms Wednesday, August 18, 2010. Cruz won by split decision.

Allow the man considered the world’s best 125-pound fighter to introduce the UFC’s new weight class.

Ian McCall can describe the flyweight division with as few as two words.

“Nonstop pace,” he said at a news conference Wednesday in Sydney, Australia.

The world’s premier mixed martial arts organization will introduce its eighth weight class Friday in the Land Down Under. A four-man tournament for the new championship in the smallest and speediest division takes place on the main card of UFC on FX 2, which airs on television at 6, from Sydney’s Allphones Arena.

McCall (11-2 MMA, 0-0 UFC) faces former UFC bantamweight top contender Demetrious Johnson (14-2 MMA, 2-1 UFC), while two-time bantamweight challenger Joseph Benavidez (15-2 MMA, 2-0 UFC) meets Yasuhiro Urushitani (19-4-6 MMA, 0-0 UFC).

The two winners will square off sometime this summer to crown a champion.

“Going through a camp at this weight, I really feel the difference,” Benavidez said of the switch to flyweight from bantamweight. “I gained a certain discipline and focus that I didn’t have to have at 135. It feels great. I’m faster and in better condition. It’s going to make for a dangerous fighter.”

The 5-foot-4 Benavidez and 5-foot-3 Johnson ranked among the top five 135-pound fighters in the world despite an obvious size disadvantage. They were two of the UFC’s smallest bantamweight fighters, but stayed in the division because no major MMA promotion offered flyweight.

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Demetrious Johnson throws a left at Kid Yamamoto during their bantamweight bout at UFC 126 Saturday, February 5, 2011 at Mandalay Bay Events Center. Johnson won by unanimous decision.

Johnson recalled snacking on ice cream during training camps for previous fights to keep his weight up. It’s taken a refined diet with the 125-pound limit in sight.

“Having the discipline to cut out all the bad stuff in your diet and eating all organic and natural things from the Earth helps you focus more on training,” Johnson said. “You’re not carrying around the extra 10 pounds.”

Like Benavidez and Johnson, McCall also started at the bantamweight division. But after a loss to then-WEC champion Dominick Cruz — who has also beaten Benavidez and Johnson — McCall opted to sign with a smaller promotion to compete at flyweight.

“Uncle Creepy” has gone 4-0 in the two years since, capturing the Tachi Palace Fights flyweight championship in the process. The 5-foot-5 McCall never anticipated fighting in the UFC until matchmaker Sean Shelby sent him a message through Twitter late last year and explained the company’s plan to implement flyweight.

“I did the happy dance for five minutes in my kitchen,” McCall said. “And then, he just called and told me what was going on. He said don’t tell anyone, don’t (even) tell your wife.”

The first thing McCall did? Yelled for his wife so she could join in on the celebration.

Despite his established dominance at flyweight, McCall enters the fight with Johnson as more than a 2-to-1 underdog in local sports books. It doesn’t seem to bother him.

“In this sport,” McCall said, “you always have something to prove no matter who you are.”

Urushitani, however, is the biggest underdog in the tournament. The relatively unknown Japanese fighter vacated his Shooto flyweight championship belt to join the UFC.

Before the UFC called, the 5-foot-5 Urushitani said through a translator that he was pondering giving up on his dream to fight professionally. He forgot about that and “immediately accepted” the UFC’s offer.

“I like to perform as an underdog and I like to beat the guy who is considered greater than me,” Urushitani said.

Benavidez is a 9-to-1 favorite over Urushitani. McCall warned it would be foolish to count anyone out in the race for a new UFC championship belt.

“Everyone’s super-good for a reason,” McCall said. “Everyone’s here for a reason. I’m just ready to prove my worth.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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